How it all started
Last summer I was in an internet chat room when Brent Simmons mentioned that he was unhappy with his current outliner application. He spent a couple days shopping around for a new one, but couldn’t find anything. It was about this time that John Gruber tweeted that he wasn’t happy with the current crop of outliners either.
That got me thinking that it wouldn’t be to hard to make an outliner that people enjoyed using. (I was woefully naive about how complex outliners were to build.) I almost started right then, but got distracted with my work on NetNewsWire.
Eventually the work on NetNewsWire temporarily slowed down and I was looking for something to do. A friend brought up the idea of developing a commercial outliner. That didn’t work out, but it got me going in the right direction. I’ve been building Zavala since Nov. 5th, 2020 and haven’t stopped yet.
Why Open Source?
Indie developers have to generate revenue. One way is by adding features and charging for new versions of an application. Some features that might drive upgrades might not fit your vision for the application. It is nice not to have to question if the thing you the developer want in the application is a waste of time financially. It’s nice to not be tempted to sell tracking data about your users so that you can eat.
Besides, how much money is there really in selling outliners? How much if you sell only on Apple platforms? Not much I imagine. Probably not enough to live on. Getting paid to develop mediocre cross platform web applications was how I spent my whole developer career. Now I want to build software that I am proud of. That means committing to a platform based on technical superiority, not commercial viability.
Open Source is a great option if you aren’t looking to make money. Sometimes a developer will show up and add something awesome for you. You can create a community around a product. You can network and make friends. It’s a good time if you do it right.
What comes next
I’ve been working on Zavala for about 5 months. It is almost time to ship the initial version. I think the current feature set is pretty good. A lot of testing still needs to happen though. I expect a beta release in the next few weeks with a full release within a month, if not sooner.
After the release and things settle down a bit, I might add hoisting as a 1.1 release. A Share Extension is coming sooner or later so that you can append and prepend things to outlines from other applications. I’m not sure when that will happen. Probably before 2.0.
Automation will be the focus of Zavala 2.0. You should be able to do some cool stuff when you are able to automate processes in Zavala. It is too early to say what that will look like. Maybe it is Shortcuts support on iOS and AppleScript support on macOS. Maybe it will be an embedded programming environment that works on both platforms.
I’m going to do a series of blog posts on Zavala features. Subscribe in your favorite RSS reader and learn some tips and tricks. There is lots of stuff coming.